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Colleges in state easing back virus rules for coming year

Most keeping masks for now by Jaime Adame | April 2, 2021 at 6:59 a.m.
Students Hannah Wall (left) of El Dorado and Lucee Lugo of De Queen sit outside on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock plans to remove most physical distancing requirements Aug. 2 as it returns to "more traditional" campus operations, the university announced Thursday.

But a face-covering requirement continues "until further notice" as part of UALR's covid-19 protocols, according to an email from Chancellor Christina Drale.

Drale cited the availability of vaccines. Vaccination events were held Thursday on the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and Arkansas State University campuses.

At UALR, there will be an expected "resumption of normal campus operations" on Aug. 2, Drale said in Thursday's announcement.

"With the availability of vaccines and a significant reduction in the covid-19 cases on-campus and in Arkansas, UA Little Rock is preparing to return to more traditional campus operations in fall 2021," Drale said.

Some changes at UALR because of the pandemic will remain, including "enhanced sanitation efforts" and an on-campus housing policy of having one student per bedroom.

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By Aug. 2 the university expects to end its limits on event sizes, in addition to easing its physical distancing protocols. The number of in-person classes also is expected to return to the level seen before the pandemic.

The campus has made some changes this spring to allow events with up to 25 people, up from a limit of 10. Larger events may be held but only with approval from UALR vice chancellors after safety reviews.

UALR has not had a new on-campus infection since mid-February, according to the school's website.

Adults from the community were able to get doses of covid-19 vaccine Thursday at the UA-Fayetteville campus, with the event coordinated by the Northwest Arkansas Council.

Some other colleges also have hosted vaccination clinics open to the wider community, including John Brown University in Siloam Springs, where such a clinic was held Wednesday offering the Moderna vaccine.

"We vaccinated a total of 638 people yesterday," JBU spokeswoman Julie Gumm said in an email Thursday. "I do not have exact student numbers at this time, but I estimate 250-300."

ASU held a three-day campus vaccination clinic this week.

For the final day of the event, 429 appointments were scheduled as of Thursday afternoon, ASU spokesman Bill Smith said.

Earlier in the week, shots were administered in lobbies of student residence halls, he said.

"This was a way to take the clinics to the students, and invite the students who lived in adjacent halls to come over," Smith said in email.

Smith said 357 vaccine doses were administered in those clinics Tuesday and Wednesday. The ASU campus has roughly 2,600 students living on campus. It's unclear how many students may have gotten vaccinated elsewhere.

ASU Chancellor Kelly Damphousse in a written message to the Jonesboro campus Thursday said that "for now" face coverings will continue to be required.

"As of this moment, I am not aware of any college in the state that has removed its mask mandate," Damphousse said.

Other public university leaders such as Drale have similarly said they are keeping campus mask requirements.

Gumm said JBU, a private Christian college, will be watching covid-19 case counts upon the return of students after a four-day holiday that began Thursday. No changes to the campus mask requirements will happen until mid-April at the earliest, she said.

"The administration has asked students, faculty and staff to fill out a short survey to gauge people's sense of the health risk to themselves and others. Their feedback will be taken into consideration before any changes are made," Gumm said.

Hendrix College, a private liberal arts college in Conway, plans to keep its on-campus mask requirement through the summer, spokeswoman Amy Forbus said.


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